Institute for Security Studies (Tshwane/Pretoria)

Somalia: Piracy Incidences Dip Amid Reports of Corruption

Photo: EUNAVFOR
Suspected Somali pirates are apprehended by a patrol of the European Union Naval Force Somalia.

Reports from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) indicate a significant reduction in incidences of piracy in the Gulf of Aden in the first quarter of 2012.

There was 163 instances in the first quarter of 2011, the first half of this year has so far seen 69 incidences, which indicates a drop in global piracy figures of by about a third.

According to a leaked advance copy of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia report, the decrease in piracy in the region can be attributed to three main factors.

The first is the adoption of best maritime security practices by shipping companies plying the routes.

The second is the pre-emptive and disruptive counter-piracy tactics employed by the international naval forces currently operating in the territorial waters of Somalia, including the recent widening of their mandates to include the ability to attack pirate bases on land.

The third has to do with the increasing use of private maritime security companies to provide security for shipping companies using the route.

While these factors are largely external to Somalia, there are a number of important internal developments that could also have contributed to the success of the fight against piracy.

These include Puntland's counter-piracy campaign and increased stability in Mogadishu, which has renewed hope, as well as the number of returnees to the country. The improved tracking of money laundering routes could also have contributed substantially to the tightening of money laundering avenues for pirates and pirate investors in the country and the region at large.

While the dip in piracy incidences calls for celebration, two aspects will have a negative effect on the prospects of sustaining the trend.

These are the growing relationships between some TFG officials and pirate leaders, and the diversion of piracy skills to other criminal activities. Two examples of the relationship between government and pirate leaders are the differences in sentences given to low-level pirates and to pirate kingpins, and the issuing of a diplomatic passport to pirate leader Mohamed Abdi Hassan 'Afweyne' by President Sheik Sheriff Sheik Ahmed.

Although Puntland has embarked on a counter-piracy campaign, the prosecution of low-level pirates and pirate leaders has been inconsistent. Abshir Boyah, a Puntland-based pirate leader, was arrested but sentenced to only 5 years in jail, whereas low-level pirates have sometimes been given sentences of up to 20 years.

These two instances, highlighted in the advance copy of the UN sanctions committee report, seem to point to a connection between pirate kingpins and some government officials.

President Sheik Ahmed's explanation for the diplomatic passport saga was that it was a way to incentivise the pirate kingpin to dismantle his pirate network and contribute to counter-piracy measures in the country. However, it is unclear if the move was an institutional decision taken by the government or a personal decision taken by the president. This development remains worrisome against the backdrop of the coming elections and the chances that criminal elements might try to exploit this trend to influence the outcome or to fund certain political actors.

The diversion of piracy skills into other activities is another aspect that will hinder the stabilisation process in Somalia. Due to the pressure put on pirates by maritime security forces, a lot of them are recycling their skills and participating in other criminal activities such as kidnapping. The UN report also mentions pirate leaders selling their services as counter-piracy experts, consultants and ransom negotiators.

In addition to the reports on the link between some pirate kingpins and members of government, reports of massive corruption have emerged alleging that key leaders of the transitional federal government (TFG) are involved in misappropriating $7 out of every $10 received by the TFG in 2009/2010.

These findings are not new, as a World Bank report released in May 2012 found that $131 million - 63% of total recorded revenue - was unaccounted for in the TFG revenues in 2009/2010. The UN report suggested that a further $40 million could be missing in 2011.

Although there has been increased international attention concerning the levels of corruption in Somalia, it is not a new phenomenon. With the period of political unrest and the lack of state structures and oversights frameworks, corruption could only increase.

The overall situation regarding corruption in the country points to the need for international actors to appreciate the role of conflict profiteers, as well as the networks and actors benefiting from the lack of a strong central government.

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Reports from the International Maritime Bureau reveal a significant decrease in piracy levels in the first quarter of 2012, but reports of growing ties between Somali government ... Read more »